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Top 7 MOST surprising things about Lebanon

So, I have been here five days so far and have picked up on many cultural curiosities. Here are just a few in no particular order!

1)    Everyone wears Jeans!!!

Always classy!
notice the awesome heels

Even though it may be 100 degrees Fahrenheit and humid everyone seems to wear jeans!* Lebanese wear jeans for many reasons.1) They are considered modest and a good option for Muslim women 2) They give less chances for men to be crass. One of my friends said: “I won’t wear shorts in a service (group taxi) since you never know who you will be seated next to 3) they are a fashion statement, of course!

You can almost single handedly pick out foreigners from the crowd by just looking to see if they are wearing jeans.  When packing for my trip I only packed dresses, shorts and skirts in response to the high temperatures I foresaw. So, third day in Beirut I was off to buy jeans at the Beirut Souks. The Beirut Souk used to be the old market place before the war  and so developers have built a beautiful outside mall with old Arab influences in the architecture. You can find anything from H&M to Dolce Gabbana here and it seems like a good place for people watching—as is every other place in Lebanon as plastic surgery is rampant!

*I have not yet been to the beach and am sure that jeans are NOT worn there.

2)    Great Water Pressure!

There is better water pressure in my dorm showers than in my dorm in California!!! I think this is most likely because I am staying at the American University of Beirut but, even though Lebanese say the country is a third world country, it really feels much more like a second world country! Electricity goes out often so I guess it needs some time to become “first world.”

3)    Lebanese Love American Food!

There are American restaurants everywhere!!! From pinkberry, dunkin’ donuts, McDonald’s and burger king to Applebee’s! The supermarkets have all the newest American hair products and house goods. And the thing is that Lebanese love all this stuff! McDonalds does not have the reputation it has in the states as being for those that cannot afford better—it is a fun “cool” place here.  A Lebanese owned American diner-style restaurant called “Roadster” has also opened up and there are lines out the door at their many locations!

4)   Lebanese LOVE sushi!

Out with friends eating Sushi!

Other than American food, Lebanese LOVE sushi! There are sushi restaurants everywhere! Last night I ate at a wonderful conveyor belt sushi place with a dear friend! So delicious! Ps. For dessert at a different restaurant I drank an avocado mango drink! Delicious!

5)    There is no civil marriage.

One thing that I found quite curious was the fact that there is no civil marriage in Lebanon. On your ID it says your religion (passed down from your father) and two people are obligated to marry in the specific church or mosque. A couple then lives “under” that sect’s law in regards to testimonies, divorce laws etc. For example, Marionite Christians have very strict divorce laws which can take up to 10 years to resolve and some wills will be passed down only to the primogeniture.

So, I asked the question what if people from two different religions want to get married? The answer: Either, one of them converts OR they fly to Cyprus and have a civil marriage.

Since weddings show the status of a family—the more people you invite and the grander the ceremony, fireworks etc. the better the reputation—weddings cost LOTS of money. Some families are ok with having their children elope as it won’t cost them as much BUT, the wedding is still a highly engrained tradition which if not done “right” could create a bit of a scandal.

6)    The country is so small!

I never realized just how small the country of Lebanon is! If there was no traffic it would take about two hours to drive around the gorgeous land. People talk about different towns as if they were far a way, or as if a neighborhood was THAT difficult to get to but honestly I could walk around Beirut’s entirety in a few hours! That, to me, is awesome!

7)    Lebanese are the friendliest people EVER!

They are the most warm and hospitable people I have ever met! While some of my classmates get annoyed that the shopkeepers won’t talk to them in Arabic (Lebanese are generally tri-lingual: Arabic, French and English)  a friend of mine told me the true reason: They just want to make it EASIER for you! They want you to feel more comfortable.

I was graciously invited to a wonderful evening dinner party on the first night I arrived in the country. My host, his family and all his friends could not have made me laugh more, smile more or feel more at home! Subsequently, I have been taken out to see the city by the people I met that night and I am always being checked up on. Everyone wants to make sure I am having a good time! And don’t worry: I LOVE IT here!

Note: Dear lebanese readers: if you think I may be wrong in any of my points please correct me! Merci!

Right off the plane I was whisked away to an amazing Lebanese feast in Amioun, a small town north of Beirut

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Up In The Air Lebanese Style

Lufthansa is the most reliable, on-time, predictable, exact airline. I had booked my flight on the German carrier because 1) it was the most inexpensive and 2) I know it relies and works on strict time. All this is true, I have learned, until the Lebanese arrive!!!! My layover was in Frankfurt, the hub of orderliness but this time around was different. I had never seen a check-in more chaotic in my life! People scrambled, screamed, clumped. Babies cried. My God, there were so many kids!!!! After we all finally got checked-in we were sent to board buses! Yes, I thought, I was back in Europe. The bus slowly made its way all over the airport until arriving at our small plane. By this time we were at least 30 minutes late. As my mama would say, Oy Vey.

Once on the plane the misunderstands began: The German flight attendants not speaking French and many Lebanese not speaking English. 1-2-3 call Nett in as a translator. I was asked to move seats three times before take off, by this time back in my first seat.

Anyway, I ended up sitting next to a very sweet (initially) Muslim woman carrying her 2-year-old son (well, I thought it was her son until he started crying for mama later in the flight and I found out he was the woman’s 17 year old daughter’s baby). This woman’s older son had downs syndrome and would scream throughout the flight.  I remember saying to my papa: “The flight from Frankfurt to Beirut is only 4 hours! That’s not bad at all.” He responded, “Well, you are going to be so anxious and excited and those four hours will seem like forever.” Boy, was he right. To make this woman even more intriguing I noted in my journal:  “We are trying to speaking in Arabic-English.  She just told me she has 10 sons and 4 daughters—after asking me if I have a man.”

The flight would ensue with babies crying EVERYWHERE (It seemed like all the Lebanese expat babies were on board), the woman furiously eating MY portion of the Lufthansa meal (is she eating for two again?), bottles flying, and a flight attendant apologizing to me with a box of “special sweets”: “This is not what Lufthansa is like. This is not our usual state. Please come fly with us again we will make it up to you.”

BUT, aside for the long tedious flight across oceans and seas, the most important thing is that I am here safely and am SO happy to be doing exactly what I had wished.

Today, in Arabic class at the American University of Beirut, the teacher asked us which city we would like to visit. In the past, I had answered with “Beirut” and for the first time I didn’t have that carnal desire to leave and go somewhere else. I am here and, as cheesy as it may sound, I am creating my own path for my destiny!!

Can Public Companies REALLY become Benefit Corporations?

While 21st century corporations serve the purpose of profit maximization, this was not always their sole function. In the 19th century, corporations served the public, not solely the pocket. Benefit Corporations (B Corps) are a response to the increasingly polarized world of business in which money is made on one side of the spectrum and social and environmental conservation and awareness is on the other. B Corps demonstrate that there doesn’t need to be such a dichotomy. B Corp legislation, which has been signed into law in California, Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Vermont and Virginia, gives protection to corporations who actively endorse sustainability on all levels. As the 2012 annual report of B Lab, the non-profit that certifies B Corps, states, “Business, the most powerful man-made force on the planet, must create value for society, not just for shareholders. Systemic challenges require systemic solutions and the B Corporation movement offers a concrete, positive, market-based, and scalable systemic solution.” B Corp legislation encourages companies to get back on the public benefit ship, one that has deviated from its historic course. B Lab, in certification, offers a path to social benefit citizenship.

       B Corp legislation was introduced just four years ago but B Lab has already certified 533 companies nationally. However, the majority of those are small scale businesses and, as of yet, there are no public B Corporations.   Patagonia is one of the biggest B Corps and demonstrates that companies of great size CAN become certified. But, as we can see, there are not that many companies that are willing to sacrifice profit for a social and environmental good. Thus, the biggest challenge seems to be getting people to care, which in turn forces businesses to have to care. However, this involves a norm shift that will take years. Andrew Greenblatt, assistant at the B Lab New York city office, remarks on the time frame needed to B Corps to be the accepted norm: “It’s going to take time for that to get organized, but 10 to 20 years from now this will be the standard way of doing business. And if you’re not a benefit corporation people are going to ask why not.” We can see this slow change in standards through the increase in demand for organic food, the drop in price in solar panels, among other products. Image Power GreenBrands even found that 72% of Americans believe it is important to “buy from green companies.” Still, this norm shift has not ventured out much from the (reasonably)  stable economic hubs like the Bay Area, Portland, New York city, Chicago etc.  We will not see widespread systematic changes in business until the understood role of the economy moves to encompass long term benefit, not just short term return.

While the number of B Corps is not that high B Lab has certified businesses in 60 industries, ranging from banks to law firms to engineering companies. This demonstrates that B Corps are limitless in regards to arenas of business. But, as of now, there are no publicly traded Benefit Corporations. In A Scorecard for Companies with A Conscience in the New York Times, Op-Ed writer Tina Rosenberg explains: “For various reasons, including the difficulty of convincing thousands of small investors to agree to the legal revisions, there are no B Corps that are publicly traded companies.”

All B Lab certified companies will be awarded this insignia. Now, I am always on the look out for this mark!

One aspect of certification and legislation that had not been clear, until meeting with the San Francisco B Lab office, is that a company can become B Lab certified WITHOUT becoming a legal Benefit Corporation. In essence, a company in Kenya, or Lebanon or Kentucky could be assessed upon B Lab criteria and awarded certification. B Lab certification is a global insignia that indicates a company’s social and environmental integrity. Therefore, certified B Lab public companies do NOT have to worry about a potential lawsuit from a stakeholder (on the premise that the corporation isn’t doing enough for the general public good, as is the case if they are legally a B Corp). However, public companies could still face scrutiny from stakeholders if profit is lower due to meeting B Lab criteria.  Business, ethics, life is in constant search for a balanced homeostatic environment and public companies vying for certification and B Corp status are those whose vital pull is toward sustainability.

Public companies wanting to become B Corps, not just B Lab certified, are waiting to see how the law will play out if a disgruntled shareholder does sue on the basis of the premises mentioned above.  Once there is case law, public companies will feel protected from such actions and more willing to adopt the revolutionary new B Corp bylaws. Adelante!

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On a personal note, I visited with B Lab at The Hub in San Francisco and was so impressed by their knowledge and understanding of all the complexities which go along with becoming a publically traded B Corp. They were not at all pushy in trying to “sell” their product—B Lab certification—and their attitude really made me want to go on a sort of B Lab crusade and encourage others to at least take the FREE self assessment on their website and see if your company is really doing everything for a global benefit! I truly believe that B Lab non-profit, and those that become certified, are going to change the pH of the whole world of business!

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